Sunday, January 31, 2010
The winters in Maine always present extra challenges to my building (and living) situation. The mid-coast area of Maine is consistently 10 degrees colder than Cape Cod.. sometimes a little colder.. but those 10 degrees make a huge difference in the amount of snow and freezing conditions. Upon my arrival to the property I found about two and a half feet of snow had accumulated, so I parked my pickup on the paved road (Rt. 139) and walked in to where the house stood. It's only about 250 ft. from the road but trudging through snow that reaches past my knees is exhausting. When I reached the house I was completely winded. I first built a fire in the little stove and opened up the dampers all the way to really get it going strong and hot. On top of the stove I had left a large pot of water filled halfway, which of course by this time was a solid block of ice. As the fire got going, the water would melt and eventually become hot. I figured in an hour or so I could place the other frozen gallon jugs of water (that I had filled just before my last departure) into the pot to thaw them rapidly. I would need that water soon to prime the water pump. But that reminded me: when I drained the water from the system at the end of my last visit I forgot to drain the water from the pump housing. Oops. There are so many loose ends to tie up at the end of every visit that I inevitably miss one or two. This was a stupid thing to forget but not necessarily disastrous. I did drain the water from the rest of the system which probably left the housing only about three quarters of the way filled. with the taps open there was likely enough space for the ice to expand without cracking the case. The impeller would not move until all the ice was thawed but that was what the hot water would be good for. I hoped it was not damaged. (I found later that it was not). Nevertheless, at the time, I gave myself a good internal reproach. Who does something that stupid? Somebody in a hurry. That's who. An idiot. It's a good way to destroy a perfectly good pump and have no running water.. stupid.. I promised myself to return to that line of thought later. I switched on the ventilator fan behind the stove to direct warm air into the box containing the pump. That would help start the thawing process.
With no time to waste I made my way to the tractor. I would need to plow out the driveway to get my pickup off the road and up to the house. I pulled the tarp off the tractor: a beautiful 3203 John Deere with a front bucket that I can use as a snow plow. I turned the fuel valve ON, primed the glow plugs and START! The 32HP Diesel rattled to life. I love this machine. It's an incredible tool. I could not accomplish this project without it. As the engine was warming I gently praised the little tractor. I told it softly that it was a good tractor; a pretty tractor but very strong. I shifted into low and soon, after a few short back and forth movements I was able begin removing the snow from my path and eventually had enough clear space to get up the momentum to push the snow into piles. The snow was deep and I knew that I must be careful not to try and plow too much away at one time. However, being a man of very little brain, I got a running start and tried to push a great length of snow away in one sweep. "Gotta get this done!" I said,"I got shit to do and it's getting dark!" Ten feet into my long run the bucket was filled to capacity and dumping off the back under the front wheels. Another ten feet and the snow was up around the axles. Stuck! The wheels would only spin helplessly. Idiot! I'm an idiot. So I idled down the tractor and trudged off to get the snow shovel from the porch of the house. I dug around the wheels to remove all snow from the undercarriage leaving about a foot around each wheel clear. I started the engine, raised the bucket and I began moving the machine back and forth in low gear with the rear differential locked. Back and forth, adding a foot to each stride, I was able to back up far enough in order to lower the bucket. Back and forth, back and forth and then incrementally side to side and I had made a clearing big enough that I could begin again to clear the snow from the driveway.
Eventually I cleared a very narrow path to the road (about 6ft. wide) where my pickup was parked. It was just wide enough for the truck to pass, but I had to take a run at it in 4WD to make it to the top of the drive at the back of the house. Now I could finally off load some essentials like food and clothes into the (now much warmer) house. That was a good thing because at this point my ass was frozen. I would widen the drive the next morning.
It takes awhile to warm the house to a comfortable level: about 24 hours to be very cozy. This is because I not only must warm the air within, but that heat must penetrate the envelope of the walls and fill the airspace between the fibers of insulation to create a true barrier. It also didn't help that there was still a large section of the living room uninsulated. But that was soon to change with this January visit.
At more than two years into this project I have found that there is little point in planning what I will do before each upcoming visit. I never end up doing what I had planned. I take it day to day because to accomplish one thing there are usually many steps that need to be taken beforehand. When I am away from the project I have trouble visualizing all those factors.
The next morning after plowing the driveway again I decided that I must get better TV reception. Yeah, I have a little television. With a set of broken rabbit ear antennas it can pick up two stations depending on where in the room I was standing. I felt my TV viewing experience could be greatly improved with an aerial antenna. So I went to my local hardware store in Brooks and bought one. By the time I had it assembled and mounted to the roof, the first day of my visit was almost gone, but now I receive seven clear channels including FOX! Awesome! Now I could stay up to date with American Idol.
I spent the rest of the day cleaning and reorganizing to ready the living room for the task I had decided to embark upon the next day: finish wiring, insulating and sheet rocking the living room and trim out the windows. I also did some work to the mantel behind the stove, adding insulation, lights and a mirror from the trash. This process ended up taking the remaining four days of my trip.
This brings the insulating process to a fair level of completion. There is still a wall to insulate in the kitchen.. there's still a hell of a lot to do in the kitchen. At some point I really need to put more insulation under the floor, but for now the house's ability to hold heat within and repel the outside cold is vastly improved.
I am reminded of what it was like before the completed roof and walls were in place. I would sleep on an old couch pulled up next to the stove buried in blankets.. no electricity.. but I'll leave the telling of that yarn for another time.